I recently taught a seminar where I asked a participant if I could handle her dog to demonstrate a specific technique. She said no. Nicely but…No. That handler believed that her dog would not benefit or might be distressed by going with a stranger. So what did she do? She advocated for her dog.
I hear it all the time. Whenever someone opines that a particular training method was rougher than necessary, or that it could have been done in a more fair way, someone inevitably pipes up and says “The dog is fine.” They may even point out the fact that there was no lasting damage done to the dog. I guess it all depends on what we mean by the word “fine.” But is “fine” the gold standard? Is that the life we hope our pets enjoy? A world where they are “fine.”
There are no golden absolutes when it comes to deciding when and how to apply punishments. Except that we should all be working hard to do the job in the way that is best for the dog. We might disagree about what is best for the dog, but we should at least agree that the dog’s well-being has to be a priority. For me, it should be top priority. What’s best for the dog should not be determined by my preconceptions but about the dog in front of me.
Used properly, negative reinforcement can strengthen and solidify your dog’s response to known commands, and make that response far more reliable and resistant to extinction. The key, however, is to learn to use negative reinforcement properly. An incorrect understanding of negative reinforcement can make training stressful for the dog. At best, using negative reinforcement incorrectly can simply slow down your training progress and limit the overall reliability of the results.